Midway through the second period of the Wild’s 3-0 victory over St. Louis on Monday, a transformation took place.
A building that was nervous … and a team that was tentative … suddenly united with the rarest of Minnesota displays: confidence.
Some might even call it swagger.
From the point Zach Parise found Jason Pominville for a tap-in goal to the final whistle, that’s what I saw on the ice at Xcel Energy Center. And as someone who wondered going into this game how the Wild and its fans would respond to the pressure of expectations … well, consider me impressed.
The Parise/Mikael Granlund/Pominville line was simply dominant, particularly in that second period. The first goal was set up by great stickhandling by Granlund before great vision by Parise and the easiest finish of Pominville’s life. The second goal was classic Parise, outworking a defensive player in the slot for a loose puck and banging it past goalie Jake Allen in one quick motion.
Still, after Granlund missed a bad-angle tap-in that would have iced the game in the third period, the veteran hockey minds around me concluded that it would be a nail-biter at the finish – that the Blues would score and threaten to tie.
These folks have seen a lot of Wild games. They’ve seen a lot of Minnesota sporting events. It’s a natural reaction. But again, there was that swagger.
The Wild closed it out with ease, never being threatened before adding the empty-netter that sealed the deal with 2 minutes left. Minnesota gave up just 17 shots all game. Vladimir Tarasenko, one game after notching a hat-trick, was a minus-3 and had zero shots.
If that wasn’t enough confidence for you, how about Jason Zucker, one of the smallest Wild players, mixing it up with every Blues player he could find – including one shift in the second when he and Alex Pietrangelo jabbed at each other for at least 20 seconds.
Or Matt Dumba, playing in his first playoffs, laughing at Blues chief goon Steve Ott for whiffing on a check near the Wild bench.
Or even the Wild fan on the giant scoreboard hoisting a faux Stanley Cup.
After the game, Wild coach Mike Yeo had the most #Minnesotan quote ever: “We have pretty decent confidence that we’ve been working a long time to get.”
This confidence … it’s so unfamiliar. Maybe we could all get used to it?
Even after losing Game 2 against St. Louis on Saturday, the Wild holds a position of playoff control against the Blues — a strange position for this franchise in the playoffs and for its fans (and Minnesota fans in general).
Every series the Wild managed to win in the past has come with an air of desperation. Even in the only other series in franchise history in which the Wild won Game 1 — 2003 against Colorado — things took a quick downward turn when Colorado won Games 2, 3 and 4.
Minnesota needed to rally from a 3-1 deficit in that series; it needed to do the same to win the following series against Vancouver. Last year, of course, the Wild trailed Colorado 3-2 before winning the final two games.
Three series victories, all finalized in Game 7s on the road.
So this business of being tied 1-1 after a road split … this is new. This is a best-of-5 series now, with three games in Minnesota. The Wild doesn’t have to win another road game, and it can still win the series.
The questions now become: Can the Wild handle it, and can you — dear fans — handle this?
It is different to play when you are the one with something to lose, and it is different to watch when there are expectations vs. hopes.
The Wild’s best work in the playoffs last year and during the regular season this year came during desperation. I’ll be curious to see how the team reacts in Game 3, and I’ll be similarly curious to see the tenor of fans in the stands and on social media.
Is everyone ready for this? We’re about to find out.
I’ll be live at the X, ready with some postgame thoughts on the blog right after the game ends. Expect postgame videos with myself and hockey guru Michael Russo, as well as the best interviews from the locker room, postgame as well.
The bipartisan 61-4 vote in favor of the ban came during debate on a budget bill covering state departments and operations. Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, proposed the ban clarifying that "no state funds may be appropriated or tax expenditures used to fund the construction of a new major league soccer stadium."
Wolves President/head coach Flip Saunders met with the media for 30 minutes on Monday to help tie up loose ends on a season that didn’t go as planned for Minnesota — until it did.
Saunders used his opening statement to talk at length about how he thought the team had a good mix of veterans and young players at the start of the year — a group he hoped would compete for a playoff spot — before injuries derailed the season. At that point, he and the Wolves had a decision: keep playing some of the non-injured veterans or go with a wholesale development movement.
The Wolves obviously chose the latter and won just 16 games while also developing Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine (and securing a pick guaranteed to be no worse than No. 4 in this year’s draft).
“I felt we accomplished what we set out to do,” Saunders said when talking about the franchise’s revised strategy.
If the rebuild is to mean anything, though, this year’s draft is crucial. Whether you think the Wolves were tanking or merely just that bad with all the injuries this year, the end result is a high draft pick. Here is what Saunders had to say when I asked him about how he and the Wolves will approach things as the May 19 lottery and June draft draw nearer:
“We’ll go through both individually and as a staff and see a lot of players, watch a lot of film. A lot of it has to do with what background checks you have on players — and communications with them when we sit down and talk to them. … It’s a daily process you go through evaluating, and it can change.
I believe this: I believe when you draft in the top four or five, I believe you’re going to get a good player. This is a pretty deep draft, and it’s a pretty top-heavy draft really compared maybe to some of these past years. What you have to do at that point is take the best player available and not be as concerned with what position he (plays). Usually teams that have made major mistakes in this league have drafted for position high rather than drafting who the best player was. … I’ve always had an order in my head.”
That’s nothing revolutionary, of course, but in a draft in which so many people seem focused on big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor as the possible top two picks, Saunders said on multiple occasions that he believes the Wolves will do well regardless of where they wind up picking (anywhere from No. 1 to 4).
“Whoever we draft will be a piece (next year),” Saunders said. “The draft is that good.”
Maybe he has to say that now, but it’s also worth noting that Flip has done a pretty good job so far in evaluating draft talent. Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine are his first-round picks, and all of them seem to be rotation players at worst. Andrew Wiggins, acquired for Kevin Love, could be a superstar.
Still, I have to imagine that deep down, knowing the injury history of Nikola Pekovic, Saunders has to be hoping to have a chance to draft one of those big men.
We’ll take a daily look at some of the most talked about prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft and tell you whether they’re worth the hype or not.
We’ve already looked at one wide receiver, Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman, during this series. We shift our attention now to another high-profile receiving prospect that many Vikings fans want, Louisville’s DeVante Parker.
He’s been linked with the Vikings in a number of mock drafts, mainly due to his ties with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville. Of course, rarely does the most popular pick among mock draft analysts actually turn out to be the team’s selection on draft night, but it’s nice to dream, right?
Parker is listed at 6-3 and 209 pounds. He’s viewed as one of the best wide receivers in this draft. His father, Anthony Shelman, played running at Louisville from 1991-94.
By The Numbers:
Freshman (11 games): 18 receptions, 291 yards, six touchdowns
Sophomore (13 games): 40 receptions, 744 yards, 10 touchdowns
Junior (12 games): 55 receptions, 885 yards, 12 touchdowns
Senior (seven games): 43 receptions, 855 yards, five touchdowns
Parker missed seven games due to a foot injury last year, but he was extremely productive once he returned to earn second-team All-ACC honors. He snagged 33 touchdowns in 43 games and tied the school’s single season touchdown record as a junior. He was, without a doubt, a playmaker in college.
NFL Combine/Pro Day results:
40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds
Bench press (225 pounds): 17 reps
Vertical: 36.5 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet, five inches
Parker didn’t post any eye-popping measurements at the NFL Combine, but there wasn’t too many surprises either. It was interesting to note that his vertical was the 19th best among wide receivers at the combine.
He may not be good at jumping in compression apparel, but the film shows that he’s really good at jump balls and challenging catches.
There are many things that I like about Parker. He’s also really good at racking up yards after the catch and using his thin frame to slip away from tackles. And most importantly, Parker is a flat out playmaker. It doesn’t matter if it was Bridgewater or Kyle Bolin behind center, you had to account for Parker.
And if you didn’t, he made you pay.
And this is when I’ll upset a lot of people, though I do like Parker and think he’ll have a solid career in the NFL as long as he stays healthy. I just don’t think he’s a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
Let me explain!
First off, Parker needs to gain weight. He’s not strong enough to handle press coverages in the NFL. When you watch his highlights, Parker faced a lot of cornerbacks playing about five yards off the line of scrimmage. Parker took advantage of it, running a lot of underneath routes and gaining more yards after the catch. It likely explains why he’s second among receivers in this draft averaging 4.21 yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus.
Whether it’s due to his foot or just his thin frame, Parker had a tough time gaining separation against press coverages.
Parker also needs to work on his route running. He tends to get sloppy at times with his routes, but that’s an area pretty much everyone-not-named Amari Cooper will need to work on at the next level.
There’s only three wide receivers I think that have the capability of becoming a No. 1 receiver – Cooper, West Virginia’s Kevin White and Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham. Cooper is the best receiver in this draft by far. White and Green-Beckham have the potential to become No. 1 receivers, but it will take time for both to develop.
I have Parker as my fourth best receiver in this draft, behind Cooper, White and Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong, who will also be a solid No. 2 receiver in the NFL. While I like Parker, I gave Strong the slight edge because of his hands, toughness and physicality. He’s raw but had two good seasons at Arizona State with a terrible quarterback. Strong, like Parker, will need to work on his route running.
Parker is without question worthy of a first round pick. He’s a top 20 talent in this class that should get picked in the middle of the first round and will have a long career. I’m just not buying that he’s a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, and I don’t think the Vikings should take a receiver in the first round unless Cooper magically falls at No. 11.
Verdict: He’ll be the truth as a No. 2 receiver. Will Parker develop into a No. 1 receiver? Don’t believe the hype.
Year Two of the Mike Zimmer era is unofficially underway as the Vikings begin their offseason workout program at Winter Park today. For now, the workouts are voluntary, and Zimmer and his staff can’t actually coach players on the field until a couple of weeks from now.
Running back Adrian Peterson is not expected to show up for the start of the program. He may or may not still be disgruntled, but it’s kind of a moot point here. Peterson usually has not participated in the voluntary portion of the offseason program. He was in the house at times a year ago out of respect for Zimmer, showing support to the then-rookie head coach.
The key dates are June 16-18. That’s the mandatory minicamp. He can be fined for skipping that.
Peterson also has a $250,000 workout bonus in his contract that he would forfeit by skipping the offseason program. But a league source with access to player contracts told me that Peterson’s bonus is tied only to his participation in organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp. So Peterson skipping the start of the offseason program this week would have no bearing financially.
So what exactly might Peterson be missing?
In the first two weeks of the program, known as Phase One, players can work with the strength and conditioning staff and watch film with coaches. Quarterbacks can throw to uncovered receivers.
In two weeks, Phase Two begins and Zimmer and his staff can coach players on the field — with substantial restrictions, though — during that three-week period.
Phase Three is when the Vikings can practice via the OTAs. The June minicamp wraps up the program, then players get a few weeks of vacation time before reporting to Mankato in July.
Instead of spending money on one good pair of headphones, I have four or five pairs of headphones lying around in various stages of repair. One of them is missing a right earbud. Two of the pairs are the old iPhone model that never seems to stick in your ear right without hurting, particularly if you sweat (which happens to people when the exercise). I just bought two new pairs on Amazon for like $8 each, and I’m sure that within a couple of months something will be wrong with them. I’ll put them through the wash. I’ll lose them. One of the sides will sound worse than the other.
I don’t know why I do this, but it does help me perhaps gain some keen insight into the mindset of Eagles coach/personnel guru/football genius(?) Chip Kelly. He is not a mediocre headphone collector (at least to my knowledge), but he is a mediocre quarterback collector. He already had Sam Bradford (been through the wash), Mark Sanchez (earbud missing) and Matt Barkley (on the cheap). But he just couldn’t himself. Now he’s added Tim Tebow (no stars on Amazon review) to the mix as well.
What could go wrong? Well, here’s what ESPN Stats/Info says:
Tebow would join Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford among the team’s signal-callers. The three each rank in the bottom five in Total QBR among those who started at least 30 games over the last five seasons. Tebow ranks lowest with a 33.4 Total QBR. Sanchez is fourth-worst (40.4) and Bradford ranks fifth from the bottom (40.7).
Tebow’s completion percentage (48 percent) ranks the lowest in the NFL over the last 10 seasons. All three quarterbacks tend to overthrow or underthrow their passes quite a bit.
Perfect. Kelly had a perfectly nice quarterback in Nick Foles. I have no idea why he would blow that up in favor of having four quarterbacks of questionable repute. Deadspin has some working theories — some humorous, some logical — for signing Tebow, but it doesn’t explain the big-picture of just what Kelly is doing.
Maybe this is some grand experiment that those of us who never played the game (copyright) just wouldn’t understand. Maybe he knows how to play to each of their strengths and turn them all into monsters in his system in various situations.
Or maybe he’s just like me, figuring if you have a bunch of faulty options lying around, what’s the harm in adding one more?